Saturday, July 6, 2019

Knowing Me, Knowing You,

I took the rainbow for a good sign.

Granted, Pru is always chiding me for finding the "[expletive deleted] silver lining in everything," but this was an honest-to-goodness half rainbow situated between two construction cranes as I headed east on the Leigh Street bridge to meet her and Beau at Alewife. Since it had been breezy and nice when I'd left J-Ward, I was immediately suspicious about the cause of the rainbow.

Virtual projection, perhaps?

That question was answered the moment I got to Church Hill, where it felt positively jungle-like and the streets were wet. Clearly rain had recently visited the 'hood on the hill, leaving behind sticky, humid air you practically had to swim through.

I walked into Alewife to find every seat taken except for two at the bar and my friends not yet arrived, so I installed myself in one of the free bar stools and scored a glass of Domaine Rolet Cremant de Jura Brut to justify my presence. Pru and Beau soon showed up, a tad dewy from having strolled over from the manse, but otherwise ready for an evening of fish and conversation.

Once the former occupants of our table had cleared out, we took it over, its only disadvantage being it was right in the front window and the 7:00 sun was beating down on it mercilessly. After putting up with it long enough to get a bottle of wine from the Loire, we politely asked our server if he could lower the shade below the skyline, a minor adjustment that immediately lowered the temperature at our table.

As much as the three of us enjoy Alewife's mid-Atlantic fish focus and the seafood shack vibe with its white beadboard walls, between the three of us, we couldn't think of a single reason why the place doesn't have ceiling fans. No self-respecting seafood joint would open its doors without fans to move the hot air, fish smells and cooking heat from the open kitchen around, especially when no amount of air conditioning can offset it.

Because while I'm the last person to complain about heat - plus I'd worn the thinnest, lightest dress I own - Pru and Beau are the first and they were definitely wilting. She resorted to fanning herself with a menu to deal with it.

Heat aside, the second most challenging part of the evening was deciding what to order from a dream menu listing five starter and five entree offerings from the sea. Those are my kind of odds.

Naturally, I went directly to what I didn't know, beginning with an Okonomiyaki-style waffle (main ingredient: cabbage) spread with creamy smoked fish, paper-thin slices of black garlic and kimchi. Beau was quick to question the proportion of kimchi, insisting that more would have been better to offset the richness of the smoked fish and he wasn't wrong.

In any case, this dish, which resembled pizza, was so appealing looking (and we were scarfing it down so enthusiastically) that the newly arrived eight-top next to us leaned over and asked what it was so they could order their own.

Few things could be as summery as chilled peach soup with ginger, Caramont goat cheese and peanuts, although with my stone fruit allergy, I had to limit myself to only a few delicious bites. But the Cremant had made me weak and so I had a few more and in no time, my tongue was swelling and the inside of my mouth was itchy.

During peach season, it sucks to be me.

The best description of cured cobia with strawberry, buttermilk and pickled blueberries was Beau's: "It's like I'm drinking the beach!" a nod to the Cobia's saltiness which matched that of a mouthful of ocean. Serious yum.

Pru and I both chose Snook, a highly desirable southern Florida fish that's extremely regulated, so infrequently found on menus. With its savory crisped skin, medium firm white flesh and farro salad with grilled squash and carrots underneath, it was everything you'd hope for in ordering an unknown fish at a beachside fish shack.

Beau tried unsuccessfully to insist that his mackeral was better, but that's only because he was drooling over the Surry sausage, charred cabbage and mustard vin that completed it.

Complaints about the heat subsided while so much stellar food was being enjoyed, but the pause in conversation (beyond moans of delight for what was in our mouths) only accentuated how noisy it was in there and that it was impossible to hear the music. Let's just say ambiance is not Alewife's forte.

With nothing but soft serve custard on the dessert menu, we decide to cover as many bases as possible. My vanilla and chocolate swirl had hot fudge (though not nearly enough), cocoa nibs and graham cracker crumbs, while Beau's poundcake was smothered in peach, raspberry and soft serve. Pru kept it simple with affogato: coffee-drenched soft serve, though she acknowledged she still prefers Dinamo's version.

I stay out of all coffee-related discussions given my lack of knowledge and interest on that front.

Given the heat and absence of music, the Church Hillians were only too eager to clear out and head to the manse's screened porch which somehow, despite being essentially outdoors, managed to be cooler and drier feeling than Alewife.

Thankfully, some people know the value of ceiling fans.

With blades whirring, we began the evening on the porch with the soundtrack from "Heavy Metal," a 1981 film with which they were both familiar and which meant nothing to me. Am I going to judge if a soundtrack starts with Sammy Hagar? Yes, yes I am. And who knew that Blue Oyster Cult ever did anything beyond "Don't Fear the Reaper?"

That said, both Pru and Beau were singing and chair dancing once Devo's "Working in a Coal Mine" cranked up. Such are the memories of those who came of age in the '80s.

Speaking of the old days, Pru regaled us with stories of reporting to boarding school wearing a yellow Gant button-down shirt, jeans and loafers, a pack of Marlboro Reds in her shirt pocket and enough attitude to dare anyone to challenge her on any of it.

When I brought up the end of an era - MAD magazine deciding to no longer publish new material, instead resorting to old editorial - a discussion ensued about how topical MAD's humor had been. Would Millennials even get, much less appreciate, some of those brilliant satires from before they were born? Doubtful, we agreed.

"I have to find a safe space and cry," deadpanned Pru about the generation that holds the reins to our future.

Meanwhile, a debate on the merits of the word "classy" (which I abhor and, we agreed, no classy person would think of using) and "swanky," which at least has a retro, humorous connotation, ensued. Yes, we are those people who can debate word usage and consider it Friday night fun.

Once we'd listened to as much of "Heavy Metal" as we could stand, we struggled to find something else to please our ears. When Beau told Alexa to play Huey Lewis and the News, Pru's response was swift and clear. "No, it's not that time yet!"

For some of us, it's never the time for Huey Lewis and the News.

Instead, with fireworks exploding in the background, we sipped and chatted through a lot of '70s AM radio music like America, Bread, Seals and Croft (Pru: "Sure, I know the song, but I had no idea it was called "Diamond Girl!"), eventually landing on ABBA for the long haul. With this crowd, Dancing Queens beat Veterans of Psychic Wars every time.

Never more so than when you've seen a rainbow, drank the beach and talked into the next day. I call that my kind of silver lining.

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